Temple school in Pakistan where Muslim woman teaches Hindu students
Inside a Hindu temple in a shanty area in Pakistan's Karachi city, Anum Agha wearing the traditional Hijab greets her students with 'salaam' and gets a loud 'Jai Shri Ram' in response.
Anum runs a school inside the temple in the Basti Guru area of the southern port city. The school is situated in the middle of an informal Hindu settlement which is facing constant threats from land grabbers.
In the settlement, 80 to 90 Hindu families live in a close cluster of wooden huts and some semi-constructed houses.
One can see Anum holding discussions with children of the settlement after her classes are over. "Everyone is surprised when I tell them about our school inside this temple but we had no other place to hold our classes when I first started coming here last year," she said.
The classes are conducted in the main area of the temple. The walls of the temple are plastered with posters of Hindu deities and statues of Hindu Gods placed up on a higher perch.
The lack of basic facilities is noticeable as one moves around the settlement located in Rehman Colony near Mahmoodabad but for land grabbers, it is not an ordinary piece of land.
The area witnessed tensions a few years ago when a Muslim resident apparently started propagating an idea that a mosque should be constructed over the land. Recently authorities also cut electricity and water connections to the Basti, which was set up in the 60s when the Hindu families migrated from Ghotki in interior Sindh to Karachi.
"These land grabbers try to persuade the Muslim clerics that having a settlement of lower caste Hindu in the center of a proper Muslim neighbourhood is unacceptable," Arif Habib, who heads the non-governmental Initiator Human Development Foundation which has brought Anum to run the school in the temple, said.
"But I do it because these people are not even aware of their basic rights. Their children want to gain knowledge and education. Some of them attended other schools in the area but faced social and religious issues," Anum said.
She said that the Hindu elders were very happy that their children, specially the girls, don't have to leave the settlement for education. "I respect these students as human beings and they respect me back. That is how we work. We celebrate religious festivals together. I say salaam to them and they respond with Jai Shri Ram", Anum said.
She feels the school can serve as an example of how different communities can co-exist peacefully in the Muslim majority nation while respecting each other.